Connecticut’s attorney general has said that he plans to file a lawsuit challenging the No Child Left Behind Act as an unfunded mandate. If he follows through, it would mark the first such legal action taken by a state against the sweeping federal education law signed by President Bush three years ago.
In announcing his intentions at an April 5 news conference, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he was inviting other states to join in the legal challenge, which he said would argue that the law violates federal statute by forcing states to use their own funds to carry out its testing requirements.
“This one-size-fits-all approach through No Child Left Behind bleeds local budgets and diverts dollars from existing programs, without providing resources required by the law,” Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat, said in a prepared statement.
Connecticut state officials contend that, through 2008, they would have to spend $8 million above what they’re in line to receive in federal education aid to meet the law’s mandate to test students in grades 3-8 and in one grade in high school. Currently, the state administers tests in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10.
Mr. Blumenthal said that requiring a state to shoulder such a burden goes against a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that says federal officials cannot “mandate a state… to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act.” A similar argument was made last spring by Wisconsin’s attorney general in offering an analysis of the federal law. (“Wis. Review Invites ‘No Child’ Lawsuit,” May 26, 2004.)
The legal threat comes after the U.S. Department of Education recently denied a request by Connecticut Commissioner of Education Betty J. Sternberg to waive parts of the law’s testing requirement for the state. This week, her agency released a study claiming that, in addition to the costs incurred by the state from the federal law, local districts will have to spend millions of their own dollars to meet the law’s demands. “A lawsuit is an avenue of last resort,” Ms. Sternberg said in a statement. “It is sad testimony that we have been pushed to this extreme.”
Federal education officials countered that they were the ones who were disappointed. Arguing that Connecticut’s students “are suffering from one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation,” Education Department spokeswoman D.J. Nordquist said that Connecticut’s estimates of the costs of the No Child Left Behind law were “flawed.” “Instead of addressing the issue at hand, the state has chosen to attack a law that is designed to assist the students most in need,” Ms. Nordquist wrote in a statement.
A handful of districts have taken legal action against the No Child Left Behind law, and some systems have refused federal money rather than have to meet its requirements.
But Connecticut would be the first state to actually file suit against the law. The National Education Association has been prominent among NCLB critics in pushing state policymakers to challenge the law on legal grounds, and hailed the news from Connecticut.
“We are ecstatic that they have announced that they are going to file a lawsuit,” said NEA President Reg Weaver. “From the very beginning, we have been talking with states trying to encourage them to file just such a suit.”